By Tony Earnshaw Local Democracy Reporter
TENS of thousands of people in Kirklees are providing unpaid care worth a staggering £848 MILLION per year.
And evidence points to some of them being children as young as five.
Now Kirklees Council is poised to join a regional partnership aimed at supporting unpaid carers and tackling isolation, ill health and social deprivation.
There are an estimated 260,000 unpaid carers in West Yorkshire and Harrogate – with 45,397 in Kirklees.
An unpaid carer is anyone who cares for a friend or family member who, due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction, cannot cope without their support.
Kirklees Council is now set to partner with other local authorities in a “caring for carers” project set up by West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership (WY&H).
Its five-year plan outlines priorities for supporting more than a quarter of a million unpaid carers living across Kirklees and other areas.
They include supporting GPs “to proactively identify and support” young carers and encouraging NHS trusts to adopt a “carers passport” – a digital record that identifies the carer in some way and sets out an offer of assistance.
Health bosses in Kirklees are also drawing up a masterplan for the borough that assists carers by enabling self-sufficiency and providing training and practical support to reduce the burden of caring.
A report by the Kirklees Carers Strategy Group says there is “substantial evidence” that there are young people and children as young as five caring for parents with long-term health conditions, with up to 40 per cent reporting mental health conditions themselves.
In its plan the WY&H points to a 2014 impact assessment by the Department of Health which estimated for every £1 spent supporting carers, councils would save £1.47 on replacement care costs.
Its report says at least 61 per cent of carers are more likely to report having a long-term condition, disability or illness compared to 50 per cent of non-carers.
It adds that many carers, including a number of children and young people, are “hidden”, providing care without formal support, which impacts on and severely limits life chances.
It goes on to suggest that investing in support for carers “can contribute significantly” to the sustainability of health and social care.
“In particular that early intervention and targeted support for carers reduces carer breakdown and thereby limits the use by the cared-for person of in-patient services, social care and institutional care.”
Kirklees Council released this statement, from its Adult Social Care Vision: “As our population grows older, so the number of us who are caring for a friend or relative will also increase.
“We know that there are at least 60,000 people living in Kirklees who are involved in informal caring. We also know that our whole social care and support infrastructure depends on carers and their ability to carry on doing this invaluable job.
“As a council we will continue to support carers, recognising the pressures they can face and appreciating that co-ordinated support from the council and its partners will help them to continue.
“Having well-supported carers who are both willing and able to carry out this role is critical to the council’s vision for the future of social care.”
JACQUI Harrison, 54, cared for her late brother Mark for more than 30 years.
As a youngster he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease – a devastating neuro-degenerative condition that affects muscle co-ordination and movement, and causes mental decline and psychological problems. This is her story ...
“I was an unpaid family carer for Mark from 1984 to 2019. My mother died when I was six and my grandmother, who lived with us, died when I was 18. There was no father so as Mark was only 12 I went to court and became his legal guardian.
“I dropped out of college to take a job in a tax office to pay the bills. They didn’t know that I was caring for Mark so I got no support from them.
“There was a period where Mark could manage himself but he was never a well young man. He went to college and then to university. He was going to do a Masters but it all started falling apart.
“The disease manifested itself at age 31. So he never had a job, never had a girlfriend, never lived independently.
“Towards the beginning he could do things for himself. Towards the end I was doing absolutely everything: preparing all his food, which had to be liquidised, handling all his health appointments, looking after his personal care and managing vast and complicated medication. The list was huge.
“The frustration could be overwhelming. There were days when I spent hours on the phone just screaming at people. I was demented.
“It was 24 hours on with no time off. My partner Tony has been brilliant, but we haven’t been on holiday for more than 15 years. I was always anxious about leaving Mark.
“The breakthrough was the internet. I found an online forum where I could talk to other people. One of them actually lived in Leeds. We met and talked.
“From an emotional support perspective that made a huge difference. I realised that I was a hidden carer dealing with a secretive disease. And I wasn’t alone.
“Towards the end Mark needed specialist care. It would have cost £2,900 a week. My carer’s allowance was about £60 a week. But it was out of the area anyway so I couldn’t get funding for it. Plus Mark needed to be at home and I wanted to do it. We had a pact with each other. So I was providing 24-hour service at home.
“That meant I was saving the state £2,900 a week. But because I’ve been a carer for so long I haven’t had a job. I’m not earning so I’m not paying tax. I’m not contributing to society.
“If my life had been ‘normal’ – whatever that means – I might have gone into teaching.
“I’ve read the report. It’s good that someone is looking at the situation of unpaid carers and that it’s not going to be ignored. It’s certainly not before time.
“People can do all this talking but it’s the practical stuff – such as washing three times a day. You can cry in winter because you can’t dry anything. Financial support is also really needed.”